Elders in the Lord’s Church
The church established in the New Testament had an “earthly” organization. It was composed of elders, deacons, and saints (Philippians 1:1). Elders were rulers over a local church and deacons were servants of the church. Both elders and deacons hold an office or position. The elders exercised spiritual oversight over a local congregation of Christians (Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5).
The word “elder” is used throughout the Bible to describe those who, by virtue of age and experience (seniority), were best fit to govern. In the Old Testament, the word primarily referred to heads of families or Jewish communities. In the New Testament and after Christ established His church, the word refers to the heads of the various churches in different localities. When the word refers to the office of elders, it is always used as a plurality and it always refers to men. Where you find the singular use of the word, it refers to an individual or person holding that office, not the office itself.
These rulers are called by other names to denote a peculiar role or aspect of the office. For example, elders are called “bishops” or overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-2). This word occurs five times in the New Testament, but on one occasion it was applied to Christ: “the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). This denotes that Christ has the ultimate oversight for our souls. The other four times uniformly referred to one who had a leadership role in an early Christian congregation. In addressing the elders of the church of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), Paul stated, “the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (bishops), to feed (to pastor) the church of God” (Acts 20:28). Paul greeted the “bishops and deacons” of the church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1). The qualifications of a bishop are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-2. A similar list of qualifications appears in Titus 1:5-9. Verse 5 uses the word elders and verse 7 uses the word bishop, both referring to the same official.
Elders are also called “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11. Pastor means “to feed” (Acts 20:28) which describes one of the responsibilities of the office. They provide leadership (1 Timothy 5:17), they feed the flock with God’s word (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2), they guard the flock from false teachers (Acts 20:29-31), and they watch in behalf of souls (Hebrews 13:17).
Elders are ordained or installed in the churches, not self-appointed (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). A high standard of morality, a vast knowledge of the Bible and an unquestionable character is required of men serving in this office. Read carefully the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9. If a man desiring this office falls short in any one of these traits, his ability to function in the office would be tarnished and his effectiveness would be hampered.
Church members have a duty and responsibility toward their elders. They must obey them and submit to them (Hebrews 13:17). They must not bear accusations against them except at the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19).
In denominations and synagogues around the world, many different types of religious organizations exist and a variety of titles are used for their leaders. Consider these titles and names in view of what the New Testament says or does not say: Pope, Cardinal, Priest, Rabbi, Pastor, Reverend, Doctor, Saint, and even Elder and Deacon. Does your “faith” use one or more of these titles that are not even found in the Bible? And, if you do find the word, is your church properly using the position, i.e., in accordance with New Testament teaching on the word? Is God pleased with the changes men have made in the organization of the different churches and their leadership?
For more information as to why a church needs elders. read an additional article entitled, " Why Every Church Needs Elders."